Object Relations Theory Term Paper


Object Relations Theory What exactly is 'Object Relations Theory'? What does it deal with? What is it about? The Theory as such is based on the belief and conviction that every single person has within themselves a completely world of relations and relationships that may well be quite different and at times even infinitely more compelling and forceful and convincing than what actually is happening in their real world filled with real people. The Theory as such lays primary emphasis and focuses on all the various interactions and also on all the various processes that an individual would naturally use to internalize those processes and, on the large and enormous role that such processes play on the psychological development of an individual. Therefore, it can be stated that the very term 'Object Relations' would mean the so called 'real relationships' that a person would have with others, but also to all the various internal mental representations of others, and to those internal images of one's own self also. However, one must remember that when uses the term 'object relations theory', the word need not be always synonymous with what one generally refers to as a 'relationship', rather, it refers to the complexity of the relationship that one would share with other people around him. Therefore, it must be noted that one's internal world generally means the mental representations of the self and of the other as well. (Flanagan, Object Relations Theory)

Object Relations Theory is an offshoot of psychoanalytic theory that explains the issues of in depth inter-personal relationships in great detail. These inter-personal relationships, although they may concern relationships in general, are mostly however, concerned with the relationship that exists between a mother and her child. 'Object', therefore, in this theory, refers to a 'person' and most especially, to the significant person who is the object of another individual's intentions or feelings. Object also refers to much more than the individual or the person, whether internalized or real, with all his contributions to that interaction. (Flanagan, Object Relations Theory) 'Relationship', on the other hand, refers to the various inter-personal relationships that an individual may be engaged in, and it also suggests and gives hints about the various past relationships that the individual must have had with numerous people, and which do have an influence on his current relationships. The inner images of self and the various ways in which the self is able to manifest itself in inter-personal relationships are of primary concern to theorists of the object Relations theory. (Object Relations Theory: The Psychology Department-Sonoma State University)

It can also be said that the Object Relations Theory is a psychodynamic approach towards the understanding of human behavior. (Overview of Object Relations Theory) The Object Relations Theory also postulates that all human beings in general are incorporative by nature, and that this is true, both physically as well as psychologically. Just as one would eat and drink in order to sustain oneself, in the same way, one's psyche would take in experiences and process them. When someone close dies, for example, or some tragic event happens, then one would have to undergo a feeling of melancholia, and Freud stated that all complaints about the self are actually complaints about the lost person who has turned against the self. (Flanagan, Object Relations Theory) Human relationships in general, psychopathology, and psychotherapy can also use this theory for explanations. However, there are some clinicians who feel that this theory is extremely complex, and they therefore, desist from applying it. (Overview of Object Relations Theory)

Object Relations Theory as such, therefore, concerns itself with the various ways and means in which an individual would develop as a person in relation to the various people around him. An individual would therefore, undergo these several processes during the course of these relationships, and the first one is that of attachment, the second is that of separation, the third is that of introjection, the third, projection, and the fifth stage, that of transmuting internalization. These can be taken as the very key to the stages of development of an individual, and this is in direct contradistinction to the traditional psychoanalytic drive theory about how exactly an individual organism is able to discharge its various impulses. (Hamilton, 1989)

The Object Relations theory can therefore be stated to be a modern adaptation of psychoanalytic theory, which states that the aggressiveness and sexuality in a human being are not real motivational forces, and rather, states that...


The 'objects' as mentioned earlier, can be the mother or the father, or even any transitional object with which a human being forms an attachment, when he is a young child. The relationship that is formed out of this sort of attachment become incorporated into his self, and this in turn governs the so called 'building blocks' f the 'self-system', which become a part and parcel of a human being's life as he grows up form a child into an adult. (Object Relations Theory: Key Concepts)
Various mental disorders in a human being are being perceived through this object Relations Theory. Today, it is increasingly becoming clear that there is a deep relationship between personality disorders and other mental disorders, and as Rutter in the year 1987 noted, there have been certain personality disorders that have been traditionally viewed as being mere variants of mental disorders such as, for example, affective disorders, autism, and schizophrenia. However, it must be remembered that behind all these disorders, there is a large number of conditions that exist in a human being, which can be referred to as 'chronic interpersonal problems'. Take the example of schizophrenia, for instance. Various familial studies have revealed that this particular condition is a personality disorder, and according to Nigg and Goldsmith, in 1994, it is related to the schizophrenia spectrum. (Livesley, 2001)

It has also been suggested that the 'borderline personality disorder' is a part of the variant of the so called 'mood disorder', even though it is a fact that this is not supported by the existing evidence. However, it is a fact that apart from the schizotypal personality disorder, all the diagnoses for personality disorders form an entirely separate class of disorders that may not be systematically related to other mental disorders. Therefore, it must be stated that a properly systematic definition of a personality disorder must be taken as one of the first steps towards the building up of a suitable classification. However, it is a fact that clinical literature does not provide a systematic definition of personality disorders, but it does provide certain important assumptions about the condition.

Therefore, they lay stress on two important features of personality disorders, one being a chronic difficulty in maintaining inter-personal relationships, and the other, severe problems with an individual's self and his identity. Rutter, in 1987, stated that in general, personality disorder is characterized by a "persistent, pervasive abnormality in social relationships and social functioning generally." (Livesley, 2001) In the same way, Vallaint and Perry, in 1980, stated that personality disorders are inevitably revealed in social situations, wherein the individual has to mingle and socialize with other people. At times, a vicious cycle would also be created, in which the person with the personality disorder would inevitably be affected by his own mode of adaptation to the rules of society, and he would find it extremely difficult to adapt to the situation in which he finds himself. (Livesley, 2001)

Mahler has made several important observations about the relationships that an infant and its mother tend to share. He has described it in terms of several important stages too, and according to him, the first stage may be that of 'autism', and the next stage, that of symbiosis. The next stage was described as 'separation-individuation', and this was the stage when whole object relations would be formed. Autism was actually, according to Mahler, the relative but not always complete insulation and protection that the child would in general feel at birth, and which would continue for a period of about six months of age. When the child is six months, it would start to separate itself form its mother and also form its primary caretakers. This is exactly when the child becomes mobile and it wanders off all the time so that it can happily explore the outside world to its satisfaction. This happens because it has grown and individuated itself form its mother and sees itself as a separate entity. (Hamilton, 1989)

Some people opine that it is the maternal relationship, that is, the relationship that is shared between a mother and a child that would affect an individual and his development and his mental growth. However, one moot question remains unanswered most of the time, and this is whether or not there exists a link between maternal libidinal unavailability and the developmental retardation of a child, and if it did, what…

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